Lixwm school pupils investigate planning application’s impact on natural environment

Stacey Jones, a Year 4, 5 and 6 mixed class teacher of 18 pupils from Lixwm Church in Wales Voluntarily Aided School, Flintshire recently put the activities shared on our ‘To protect or develop a natural area? - That is the question’ training with STEM Learning into practice with her learners.  Ffion Hughes from our Health, Education and Natural Resources team spoke to Stacey to find out, having worked through the 6 AoLE’s, what her learners thought the future should hold for Halkyn Mountain, an area close to the school.

“We have previously found difficult to incorporate an entire topic with the origins and local history of Lixwm due to a lack of information and content.  Having received the training, it became clear how we could link the natural environment with the activities and information provided – it became our topic for the whole of the Summer Term.”

“The learning kicked off with the pupils receiving a ‘letter’ sent via post and delivered to the class by the headteacher.  It contained information on a planning application to Flintshire County Council to build a retail park on Halkyn Mountain.  As the learners were local, the Council asked for the pupils’ help to review the application.  I pretended to ‘scrap’ our Summer Term topic as we had received a more important issue to investigate!” 

“The pupils investigated Halkyn Mountain in terms of its location, the area it covers and its wildlife before going on to create a double page spread, which they are all very proud of!  They researched the area’s history and collaboratively ordered the Mountain’s timeline.  This led into looking at the creation story vs scientific theories of how the world was created - an important link for us as we are a church school.”

“The topic fostered lots of links with the local community - We had Ieuan ap Sion, a local resident who is very knowledgeable about Halkyn Mountain, come into school and share his knowledge.  Halkyn Mountain was one of the largest lead producers in Britain and stone has been quarried from the area for hundreds of years.  Today large, highly mechanized quarries operate in the area.  How would the application affect the quarrying?  We visited the Cemex quarry on Halkyn Mountain, had a tour and watched a blast take place.” 

“The children conducted research into the native animals to Halkyn Mountain and looked at food chains and the impact that human activity can have on them.  They developed their sketching skills to study and sketch insects that live on the Mountain and displayed their work at Halkyn Community Centre at a Halkyn Mountain Bioblitz event the Halkyn Mountain Nature Conservation Group held.  Utilising the outdoor areas of the school and trips out onto the Mountain, they conducted scientific experiments to monitor the air quality, light and noise levels and considered what impact the retail park would have on these if it was built.  Final opinions and findings were submitted to Ysceifiog Community Council (a school governor is also on the council) for them to review and put forward at the ‘council’s planning meeting’.” 

“At the beginning of the topic when the children initially received the letter, there were mixed feelings about the retail park being built, with many seeing the advantages of having shops far closer than we do now, but many were clearly unaware of the impact it would have on the local environment.  At the end of the topic when the children submitted their views, all the children were against the retail park being built and they had many reasons why it shouldn’t. An outcome of the topic was that the children developed a deep appreciation for what is on their doorstep, their cynefin.  They now have a stronger appreciation of the wildlife and natural beauty of the area that they live, and their knowledge of its historical and religious importance is now quite significant.  They feel very strongly about protecting it both through their actions but also by educating others within the wider community.  In the future they will hopefully grow up to be ethical informed citizens of the area.”

“Why did Stacey decide to take the scenario and ideas shared on the training and run them with her learners?  “It fit so perfectly as a topic within the new Welsh Curriculum. The links to all 6 of the Areas of Learning and Experience were strong and well thought through and it was all encompassing. It also had strong links with the locality, opportunities to develop links with the local community and it had strong RE links which we were looking to develop as we are a relatively new church school.  The Four Purposes had clearly been at the heart of the planning process of the course, resources and materials and so delivering the topic helped my learners develop across each of the 4 purposes, but particularly ethical, informed citizens.”

“One of the issues with doing any sort of topic on your local area is the lack of resources and reading material for yourself and for the children. This is reduced even further if you live in a rural town or village as there is very little to base the topic on.  Looking at your local area and cynefin is a big part of the new curriculum and yet it can be incredibly time-consuming researching and gathering and collating bits of information to inform any sort of topic. Therefore, the background research and resources provided by the course were invaluable to run this topic as it must have taken time to create and collate which teachers simply do not have. They were a lifesaver!  Having the basis for the topic and activities allowed me to concentrate on spending time tweaking them to suit the children that I teach, interweaving and connecting it to the local history of the village the school is in, and, most importantly, establishing links within the local community and organising trips.”

“This is the first topic I’ve delivered where I’ve truly felt that it encompasses all 6 AoLE’s and nothing had to be taught as a standalone subject or shoehorned in to make it fit. The links were there and that allowed continuity over the topic, and it flowed from one thing to the next far more naturally.  Running the activities and scenario has pushed me both professionally and personally as I really feel that it is an innovative forward-thinking topic in terms of the new curriculum.”

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